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Artist’s concept of the New Horizons spacecraft encountering Pluto and its largest moon, Charon (foreground) in July 2015. Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute (JHUAPL/SwRI)

From Mercury to Pluto: the year ahead in planetary exploration

2015 is already shaping up to be a big year in astronomy and planetary exploration, with the best yet to come. Here are some highlights to keep your eye on throughout the year. Opportunity January 25 marked…
An artist’s impression shows a pair of wildly misaligned planet-forming gas discs around both the young stars in the binary system HK Tauri. R. Hurt (NASA/JPL-Caltech/IPAC)

From dust clouds to wobbly orbits for new planets

New observations of a youthful binary star system, reported today in the journal Nature, may help to explain one of exoplanetary science’s greatest unanswered questions – the peculiar orbits of so many…
Beta Pictoris b spins faster than the fastest spinning planet in our solar system. ESO/L. Calçada & N. Risinger (

A different spin – exoplanet’s ‘day’ is measured for the first time

Over the past two decades, almost 1,500 exoplanets have been discovered orbiting distant stars – but Dutch astronomers have determined for the very first time just how fast one of those exoplanets is spinning…

Super Earths could not sustain life

Rocky planets larger than Earth could not sustain life because their thick, crushing hydrogen atmospheres would be deadly…
desert sunrise.

Death, the universe and everything

The Earth’s biosphere teems with life. From its upper atmosphere to the depths of its oceans, even down into the rocks that make up the planet’s crust. All of it, all these billions of tonnes of carbon-based…
Things may not be as they’d previously seemed regarding the moon’s formation. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Was the moon formed by a planetary hit-and-run?

New research published in the planetary science journal Icarus, shows the moon may have been formed by a glancing collision with an “impactor” in the violent days of the early solar system. Contrary to…
Time to shine, Venus: the 2004 transit as seen from Hong Kong. Wikimedia Commons

Venus nears its moment in the sun, but what’s a transit anyway?

As you’re reading this, people all over the world are gearing up to witness this century’s final transit of Venus. Over a period of around six hours and 40 minutes tomorrow, from early morning until the…

Milky Way may be brimming with nomads

Our galaxy may be teeming with so-called ‘nomad planets’, which travel through space rather than orbiting stars, according…
What’s so special about the latest big discovery by NASA’s Kepler? NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

Don’t pack your bags yet – Kepler-22b (probably) isn’t the next Earth

On Monday, to much fanfare, astronomers working with the Kepler space observatory (which was launched in March 2009) announced their first discovery of a planet orbiting within the “habitable zone” of…
An artist’s impression of one of 16 new super-Earths recently found. This one orbits the Sun-like star HD 85512 in the southern constellation of Vela (The Sail). ESO/M. Kornmesser

Rare haul: 50 exoplanets and 16 super-Earths found

European astronomers have found 50 distant planets orbiting stars and 16 rocky “super-Earths”, planets that theoretically…

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